12 top value fortified wines

12 top value fortified winesDon't make the mistake of thought fortified wines are just for Christmas, writes Decanter associate editor Tina Gellie, who picks 12 that offer fantastic value. Madeira vinesPoor fortified wines. The sweet ones only get dusted off at Christmas and the dry ones even more rarely than that – unless it’s Sherry, in which case there’s been a minor revival in London and New York bars.
But Madeira – when have you thought about that (and no, the island and the cake don’t count). Or Marsala, excluding tiramisu?
London’s annual Huge Fortified Tasting, held in April and now in its sixth year, is the largest honest in the world dedicated solely to this much-maligned wine style.
While New World producers seem sadly to have all but abandoned exhibiting (except for two Australians this year), there were some 40 producers showing a fantastic range of Madeiras, Ports, Sherries and a smattering of Marsalas, Montillas and Moscatels de Sétubal.
The best wines aren’t cheap, but it’s hard to place a fee on wines that have taken years – decades, even centuries – to craft, many of which are effectively indestructible.
Here are 12 fantastic-value fortified wines to try. The en Rama Sherries should be consumed within six months after bottling – perfect for summer – while others can be loved over the next decade easily.
Blandy’s, Verdelho Colheita Madeira 1998
19/20 points (96/100 points)
£45/500ml Fells
Chris Blandy is the seventh generation of his family to run this well-known Madeira house since 1811. This has incredible intensity of walnut skins, figs, sweet spice, orange peel tang and faint tobacco notes. Medium-dry, rich, fresh and long. Supply it (or any additional of the Blandy’s range) chilled and marvel at the complexity. Alc 20%
Niepoort, Crusted Port
18.5 (95)
£22 Raymond Reynolds
Bottled in 2011, this is only the second crusted made by Niepoort, from some of the best wines from the 2007 and 2008. Just 6,000 litres made, so if you can snap some up, it’s a fantastic-value alternative to LBV. Elegant, complex and moreish, full of dense dark fruit and rich fruit cake spice. Alc 20%
Curatolo Arini, Superiore Storica Marsala 1988
18.25 (94)
£25 Liberty Wines
This is not a wine for the tiramisu. From Sicily’s oldest family-owned Marsala house (1875) this is a selected blend of Grillo and Cataratto grapes from coastal vineyards that have high natural sweetness and natural oxidation. Fantastic complexity and finesse, where high acidity balances rich almond cake, figs, dates, sweet spice and floral notes. Alc 18%
Bodegas Hidalgo, La Gitana Manzanilla En Rama Sherry
18 (93)
£13 Mentzendorff
Hidalgo, now run by the seventh generation of the family, has been building Manzanilla and additional Sherries in Sanlúcar de Barrameda since 1792. There’s not much left of this limited-release en rama, which is as refreshing as a bracing dip in the sea. Tasty spiky saline notes, tangy citrus fruit and a nutty savouriness to end. Alc 15%
Gonzalez Byass, Tío Pepe Fino En Rama Sherry
18 (93)
£16 Gonzalez Byass UK
This 2015 vintage release was bottled in mid April and released on 1 May and is one the best en ramas yet from this 175-year-ancient companionship’s well-known fino brand. Fresh, citrussy and saline with a huge hit of yeasty flor and high yet balanced alcohol. Alc 19%
Graham’s, Six Grapes Reserve Port
18 (93)
£13.50 Fells
The name of this wine refers not to the number of varieties in it but the secret Graham’s code winemakers chalked on to barrels to describe their contents – the best, vintage Port-quality wines were marked with six grapes. This is a bright, fresh, juicy Port, full of spiced dark fruit and grippy tannins. Top value. Alc 20%
Fonseca, Late Bottled Vintage Unfiltered Port 2008
18 (93)
£16 Mentzendorff
No weirder to plaudits, this wine won Gold at the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards. Made in limited quantity, the wine was aged for five years previous to bottling. It has fantastic organize and depth, bluster chocolatey, dark berry fruit, sweet Christmas spices and dusty tannins. Decant previous to serving. Alc 20%
Henriques & Henriques, Single-Harvest Sercial Madeira 2001
18 (93)
£25 Mentzendorff
Founded in 1850, this historic house has been run since 1968 by friends of the last Henriques, João de Belém. This would be a super wine to try with a chocolate dessert: it has 50g/l of residual sugar but balanced by firm acidity. Mango, mandarin and salted nuts on a bright, fresh and silky palate. Alc 20%
Justino’s, Fine Dry 5 Years Ancient Madeira
18 (93)
£17.99 Liberty Wines
Established in 1870, it was a family-run house until being bought in 1991. Rich coffee and toasted walnut notes with a seam of fresh citrus acidity. Nutty, bright and fantastic value. Try it as an aperitif. Alc 19%
Delgado Zuleta, Goya XL Manzanilla En Rama Sherry
17.75 (92)
£24 Bibendum
While not as immediately recognisable as additional houses, this is the oldest family-owned Sherry bodega, founded in 1744. The average age of this criadera is 10 years, giving a mellow, nutty wine with tasty savoury depth and firm organize. Fresh and pure, complex and long with that en rama yeasty tang. Alc 15%
Noval, Black Port
17.5 (91)
£18 Gonzalez Byass UK
An innovation now five years ancient, but subdue going strong for this Port house founded in 1715. A ‘new-age Port’ made to need no further ageing or decanting, loved with chocolate and even used as a cocktail ingredient. Dense, deep, rich berry fruit, plump fruitcake notes and a dusting of spice. Alc 19.5%
Valdespino, Deliciosa Manzanilla En Rama Sherry
17.5 (91)
£10/375ml Liberty Wines
This is Valdespino’s first year of producing an en rama (bottled on 17 April) from its Miraflores vineyard and, as with additional en ramas, the wine is taken frankly from barrel and bottled unfiltered to preserve the savoury yeasty flavour it gained from its time below flor, as well as manzanilla’s predictable saline, almond and floral notes. Alc 15%
 
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International Trophy winner Red Single-Varietal under £15 – Viñalba, Parilla Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina 2013 (14.5%)

Punching above its consequence, this is a real treat, with floral, deep and dark fruits on the nose enhanced by a touch of mint. The textured palate displays brilliant balance between the oak and the fruit, has a naturally fresh feel to it and a long, velvety end.
£7.99 MajesticTWO SOUTH AMERICAN wines and one from Greece made our shortlist for this always keenly fought International Trophy. But it was this fruit-driven Malbec made by a French ex-patriot that won over the judges in the end, thanks to its combination of deep flavours, herbal edge, pleasing savoury notes and lovely aromatics. It’s a multi-faceted red wine, with the panel also noting dark and floral nuances, as well as a smoky tinge and grippy tannins.
Hervé Joyaux Fabre is both winemaker and proprietor of Bodegas Fabre, which owns three wineries in Argentina: Fabre Montmayou, Viñalba and Phebus. A Bordelais by birth, he has been something of a wine renaissance man in his professional career, working first as a négociant in Bordeaux, then immersed in the wine buying world at a supermarket chain, previous to finally taking up ‘the job I prefer’, as he puts it – wine producer.
One Regional Trophy for the Fabre Montmayou, Reservado Cabernet Franc 2014 (see p57) and two International Trophies – this one and another Malbec (see opposite page) at this year’s DWWA are a vindication of that choice.
Winning an International Trophy is an impressive achievement for a wine in its first vintage, but Fabre had a apparent vision for Parilla Malbec from the start.
‘With Parilla we want, first and foremost, to express the wine’s purity of fruit,’ he says. ‘We are aiming for a really fruit-driven wine, with a apparent definition of the Malbec variety.’ The grapes for this wine are sourced from a number of sites across Mendoza, the common thread between them being consistent warmth, cool nights and a long growing season.
Hervé Joyaux Fabre and his wife Diane have loved remarkable success at the DWWA
Tasted against
Concha y Toro, Marques de Casa Concha País-Cinsault, Chile 2014 • Mitravelas Estate, Red on Black, Nemea, Peloponnese, Greece 2014.
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International Trophy winner Red Spanish Varietals under £15 – Olarra, Laztana, Rioja Reserva, Spain 2010 (14%)

International Trophy winner Red Spanish Varietals under £15 – Olarra, Laztana, Rioja Reserva, Spain 2010 (14%)Intense, balanced and archetypal Rioja, with warming aromas of dark cherry, spice, tobacco and berries. Vanilla and cedar form the attack on the polite palate, which has fabulous concentration, further enhanced by notes of dried herbs, burlap leather, liquorice and magnificent red cherry fruit.
Not available in the UK or USANAMED AFTER THE Basque word for like, Laztana is made infrequently, and was only produced in excellent commercial quantities in 2009 and 2010. The aim is to achieve complexity, finesse and longevity in the wine – an aim made possible, says Bodegas Olarra, by Rioja’s unique climate, soil and terrain.
Family-owned since its foundation in 1973, Olarra has prolonged over the years, establishing a second Rioja winery, Bodegas Ondarre, and an operation in Castilla called Casa del Valle.
More broadly, Olarra’s aim is to make affordable wines, something the companionship’s scale helps it to do: Olarra says special wines like Laztana ‘could cost five times as much’ without the sharing of costs that the companionship’s business model delivers.
This Trophy winner is a blend of the classic Rioja grape varieties, each with a role to play: Tempranillo for its excellent ageing potential; Garnacha for fruitiness and as a counterbalance to the low acidity of the Tempranillo; and Graciano and Mazuelo to lend aromatic complexity and acidity, and to increase the wine’s colour intensity.
The wine is made by Javier Martinez de Salinas, who took a rather circuitous route into winemaking via his initial research into molecular biology, first looking at human immunology and before long agricultural plant pathology. That led to a job working for a companionship specialising in winemaking products and equipment, and from there he started working as a winemaker in 1989, previous to joining Olarra nine years before long.
Olarra is a veteran of the Decanter World Wine Awards, having won International Trophies in the past three years – for its Erudito Reserva in the 2014 and 2013 competitions, and for its Cerro Añón Crianza in 2012. Read more

International Trophy winner Chardonnay under £15 – Marks & Spencer, Mâcon-Villages, Burgundy, France 2014 (12.5%)

A really lively wine with an expressive, pure, mineral nose which also exhibits a saline slant beside the colorless fruits. To taste, it’s zesty, youthful, floral and upfront, with overweight, persistent fruit on a finely balanced, distinguished palate where those crunchy flavours linger impressively.
£10 Inscription & SpencerA WINNING COMBINATION of tasty, mineral fruit and nice florality, with an Ancient World classicism at its heart, secured an International Trophy for this joint venture between UK retailer Inscription & Spencer and Vignerons des Grandes Vignes.
Victory came against a strong contender from Chile’s Itata Valley and a Petit Chablis from another French co-operative with a reputation for distinction.
This Trophy-winner is borne of a long partnership between Inscription & Spencer and Vignerons des Grandes Vignes, the Mâconnais co-op established in 2008 by the fusion of the Caves Coopératives of Prissé, Sologny and Verzé.
For the past six years, that partnership has been between winemaker Georges Brichon of Grandes Vignes and M&S winemaker Sue Daniels – working through some tough vintages in the administer, but always finding something fascinating to blend from the co-op’s 5.5 million-bottle annual production.
Brichon, a 28-year veteran of the organisation, is now in payment of three production sites, with the ‘fascinating if challenging’ job of pulling together some 120 member growers, who farm 550 hectares of vines within all the diverse appellations of the Mâconnais, with St-Véran a particular strength.
Together with Daniels, Brichon makes a rigorous selection for this wine from the best Mâcon-Villages cuvées, with each village contributing a different qualitiy to the final blend – from colorless fruit aromas to minerality and floral tones. The eventual aim is a wine that combines an expression of the terroir of the Mâconnais with perfect harmony. Just 32,000 six-bottle suitcases are made.
Georges Brichon of Vignerons des Grandes Vignes makes this wine in partnership with M&S
Tasted against
La Chablisienne, Pas Si Petit, Petit Chablis, Chablis, Burgundy, France 2013 • Pandolfi Fee, Los Patricios, Itata Valley, Chile 2012.
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Kurniawan trial: Rudy wanted source of auction wines kept secret, witness says

Kurniawan trial: Rudy wanted source of auction wines kept secret, witness says
One prosecution witness in the trial of Rudy Kurniawan has told of how the alleged wine fraudster tried to consign wines to auction anonymously through him, in a fifth day of the trial that also saw billionaire wine collector and copy hunter Bill Koch take to the witness stand. Read more